Loneliness has real harmful effects

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” –Maya Angelou
The topic of loneliness is on the airwaves these days. Perhaps winter is when we become more acutely aware of the affects of loneliness.
CBC’s “Cross-Country Check-Up” recently discussed the harmful effects that loneliness has on our bodies. “Our humanity demands that we hold space and we walk together with people on their journey,” said caller Susan Memedovich, a student of loss and bereavement at the University of Western Ontario in London.
We know that infants who lack cuddling and physical contact fail to thrive and, in extreme cases, even have died.
It seems such a simple solution as we look at the people we encounter in any given day on the street, in the store, yet CBC reported in 2016 that 1.4 million elderly Canadians are lonely. And yet, programs that provide for a sense of community and belonging are the first to be cut when looking for cost-savings.
One of the things that struck me about the community of Dawson City in the Yukon was the Seniors’ Lodge. Eleven residents call that space home and the entire community, it seems, makes sure these individuals feel connected to their community despite no longer being able to move freely on the street and into the shops.
People always are coming and going to share a cup of coffee, a sing-song, impromptu get-togethers, one-on-one chats. Dawson City takes care of its own.
It is no surprise that our reliance on technology to gather information and to communicate breaks down our sense of community and feeling part of something beyond ourselves.
We don’t need to use the telephone, or physically attend to various establishments, to get what we need.
I remember as a child going with my mother to The Tiny Tot for my back-to-school clothes or seasonal change in clothes. Eva Hallikas lovingly would make selections for me while she and my mother discussed life and what was going on with each of them.
You can’t get that from Amazon.
Buying fabric for my sewing projects at Betty’s always allowed space for a story from Betty as she cut my fabric with her super-sized shears and folded it perfectly flat and square. Placing my envelopes on the counter at the post office for stamps and Barry Cox always asking about my dad and sharing a memory of him.
Sunday drives with my family, the three of us tucked in the back seat with fingers crossed for a stop at the Dairy Queen and my father having a catch-up visit with Elgin Thomson.
All these connections wove an invisible blanket that gathered us up; kept us warm and connected.
“Psychology Today” went so far as to say that “strong relationships are key-perhaps the key-to a happy life;” being sure to make the distinction between being alone and being lonely. They are not the same.
Brigham Young University says “social connection should be a public health priority.” The study went on to say the risk of loneliness is “comparable to the risk of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
We get into the path of “busy”–going to work, raising a family, keeping our bills paid–but all too often we lose sight of the quality of life while we are focused on the quantity of things.
If any of us were to refer to the value of our childhood, of our life, it most certainly would point to the relationships we made. And those memories would be surrounded by love rather than what car we drove, what clothes we wore, and what we earned each year.
wendistewart@live.ca

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